A new global assessment by the United Nations highlights the devastating collapse of our biodiversity as a result of human activity and warns that we only have a limited time to halt the current trends.

The report, published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), states that the current global response to the destruction of biodiversity is insufficient and there is a desperate need for “transformative changes” in the way humans interact with the natural world.

“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture.” Says IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson. 

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

A Global Assessment

Due to be published in full later this year, the 1,800-page report assessing the state of the world’s ecosystems is the most comprehensive of its kind and the first global assessment of the planet’s biodiversity in 15 years.

It has been 3 years in the making and has been compiled by 145 expert authors across 50 countries, with contributions from another 310 authors, and uses 15,000 scientific and government sources.

The Report In Numbers

According to the report, one million plants and animals are now threatened with extinction, which is more than ever in human history. The rate of species extinction is predicted to increase unless drastic action is taken to protect species and preserve habitats.

The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats is reported to have fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900, and at least 680 vertebrate species have been driven to extinction since the 16th century. The evidence overwhelmingly points to human activity as being the main cause of this decline.

Three-quarters of land and 66% of marine environments have now been severely altered, although these trends are much less severe on land held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.

Biodiversity surrounding waterbodies in particular faces a lot of pressure, with more than 40% of amphibian species and more than a third of marine mammals under threat.

The main drivers of this catastrophic decline are mass deforestation and land conversion (particularly for agriculture), climate change, hunting, overfishing, poaching, pollution and invasive alien species.

What can we do?

An increased number of areas set aside as nature reserves and marine protected areas, and recent changes in our attitude to favour more sustainable living is certainly a step in the right direction. However, the authors state that on our current trajectory the only way to achieve environmental goals by 2030 and beyond is to make drastic changes across economic, social, political and technological systems. A major part of the issue comes from the unsustainable production and consumption of resources such as energy, food, feed, fibre and water.

The report highlights that nature, and the benefits it provides, must be prioritised in every aspect of human development if we are to halt current trends of biodiversity loss. Sir Robert Watson says, “The Report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global. Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably”


References

IPBES – Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’, Press Release

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